Boy that was fun, wasn’t it?
There’s been a lot of frustration when it comes to UNC and bowl games. This was only the third win for the Tar Heels this decade in a bowl game, and it was by far the easiest win of the three. It’s also the most prepared a Carolina team has looked for a bowl game in six years. It all added up to a 55-13 win to wrap up the 2019 season.
I was on site Friday for the game, so if you want to hear my immediate reactions, I highly recommend the podcast I did with Chad, which was recorded only a couple of hours after the game was over. Today, we’re going to be specific to the Military Bowl and then later this week we’ll have a year-end version.
Sam Howell: How can you start anywhere but with the Military Bowl MVP? The scary thing about Howell this whole season was the thought that he had been specifically limited in what he can do because of the injury to Jace Ruder. On Friday, Mack Brown told the freshman he was allowed to run when needed, and it seemed like a whole new world opened up.
Temple did an admirable job in the first half of taking away Howell’s options and limiting the ground attack. The problem, as Chad mentioned on the podcast (yes I’m going to keep plugging it), is that if you cover everyone, there’s usually no one to cover the quarterback when he wants to take off. His 20 yard scramble on third down during the opening drive lead to the first score of the game, and it set the tone for Howell during the rest of the game.
He not only made several connections, he was moving around in the pocket, he was throwing the ball away to get out of trouble, he was completing the short pass to get chunks instead of always looking for the deep ball, and he kept Ben Kiernan off the field. The numbers were amazing: 25/34 for 294 yards, and three passing touchdowns. He wasn’t sacked once. He ran for 53 yards. Oh yeah, he also had one catch:
The Philly Special against a school from Philly. Why not?
This play happened right in front of me and trust when I say it was even more fun in person to watch. What’s scary is just seeing his progression from NC State to Temple, and now realizing he has spring and summer to get better.
Dazz Newsome: He may not have been the leading receiver by yards on the day, but he had two touchdowns on unbelievable catches:
Initially called incomplete, Dazz knew right away this was a good catch, and the video boards told the truth. This first score came after Temple had clawed back to within four, and the immediate answer was the beginning of the end for Temple.
Later in the game, Dazz was a few yards short of 1000 yards caught on the season, so he figured he’d get there with an even better touchdown catch:
Dazz also had a fumble during the game that led to Temple’s only other touchdown, but this has been the MO for all of Carolina’s receivers: they are going to drop passes, and they are going to make mistakes, but they are also going to make spectacular catches. Go back and watch the condensed game, and you’ll see the defender patting Dazz after that catch. Maybe they were talking junk to each other, but I’d like to think he just couldn’t help but to congratulate Newsome for this second amazing catch.
Carolina defense: Let’s give the defense a little love here, and honestly there were so many great plays on this side of the ball that it’d be unfair to just single out one player. There was Don Chapman’s team-high 10 tackles including one sack, Storm Duck’s Pick-6, the multiple fourth down stops, and the final interception of the game where two guys had it in their hand after the tip.
In short, the defense frustrated the Owls all day. Going in, I pointed out that Temple operates with a pocket quarterback, and Jay Bateman schemed appropriately. Carolina was constantly in the backfield, and it seemed like it was always a different member of the defense doing it. Sometimes it was the line, sometimes the linebackers, sometimes the corners, and sometimes the safetys.
Temple’s only scores essentially came on busted plays where Tar Heels were there to make the tackles, but just couldn’t follow through. Duck’s pick, in retrospect, was the backbreaker as it came after the Carolina score to open the second half. Everyone in the stadium knew the game was over by then, and it was so good to see this defense play after getting a month off and the freshest they’ve been in a long time.
Tackling: As mentioned, the game could have been an even bigger rout had Carolina’s defenders been able to make a few key tackles. Chazz Surratt had yet another outstanding game, but his first big play occurred on the first drive when he went for the big hit instead of wrapping up his man, which turned a short gain into a first down. On both of Temple’s touchdowns, multiple tackles were missed that would have stopped the ball from getting into the end zone. In a rout, it’s a little thing, but it’s something that’s been a problem all year and really should be emphasized in the upcoming preseason practices.
Penalties: Six penalties for 63 yards, and they all seemingly came on one drive where multiple stops were negated by the yellow flag. The thing is, on replay some of the calls were...questionable...at best, so it’s best to take this with a huge grain of salt. The referees seemed to also understand the game was a blowout keeping the flag in their pockets more toward the end, but it would have been nice to have had a consistently reffed game.
Red Zone Narrative: On Thursday, I asked if the improvement in the Red Zone was a blip or a trend change. The answer? 7-7 in the Red Zone, five of them being touchdowns. So it appears that narrative about Longo and the Air Raid suffering in the Red Zone may, in fact, have turned the corner. The Philly Special play came out of a new set that the Tar Heels ran where Howell started in the gun, and then moved under center with multiple players shifting on the line.
Carolina showed that look at least three times, running something different each time. It’s clear this was worked on in the prep for the bowl, which means that the staff was aware it’s an issue. It also gives you hope that it will be fine-tuned even more in the spring and summer.
How about all the milestones reached this game? Michael Carter got to his 1000-yard plateau thanks to a drive dedicated to getting him there, Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown both hit the 1000 yard mark catching the ball, and even Antonio Williams got to say the last rush of his career was a touchdown. It was great to see the staff and the team actively working to get these special memories for the players...Ben Kiernan probably had the easiest trip of anyone on the Carolina sidelines as the Tar Heels never needed him to punt the ball...Beau Corrales was a beast in the short plays, getting most of his 82 yards in YAC by taking a short toss from Howell and making Temple defenders work to bring him down...Javonte Williams had over 100 yards total on the day with 85 on the ground and 23 through the air. He was the leading rusher, and really wore down the Owls defense with his power style. He and Carter are going to be quite a team in the backfield next year.
Finally, a shout out to the folks who put on the Military Bowl. The fans there had a great time, and the sidelines are so close to the stands that it was easy for the teams and fans to interact as the game went on. The parade that led up to the game had a fun feel to it, and overall it was just a great time. I know this one wasn’t the first choice for a lot of fans, but the team and the fans that went clearly enjoyed themselves, and that’s really what these games are all about. It was a perfect cap to this season.